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Let’s Talk About Pierre-Luc Dubois

Winnipeg Jets v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL season officially ended Sunday when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Stanley Cup, and it hasn’t taken long for the silliness of the summer to take hold of fans online. The latest rumor du jour involves Pierre-Luc Dubois, a restricted free agent who has made it clear he plans on testing free agency in 2024. Let us now talk about him in the context of a tweet sent on Wednesday morning.

Using Twitter’s translation service, this tweet states:

By the way, according to information obtained during the final, the #Rangers of New York would be more than interested in acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois. Ongoing negotiations with the #Jets on the parameters of a transaction. It’s not done, but Chris Drury is very interested

It goes without saying that anytime a player of note is available or looking to make themselves available, odds are the New York Rangers will be name dropped. It is just the way things work. The Rangers generate clicks, and clicks drive dollars. That said, there are still merits to the notion of the Rangers being interested in Dubois. Drury made it known that center is a position of focus for the team, and said the following on breakup day.

Via Vince Mercogliano:

It’s a very important position for us and for any team. Centers are hard to get, they’re hard to keep and they’re so important to the day in and day out life of your team throughout the season. That’s one we’re looking at, we’ve been looking at and we continue to discuss as a group and try to figure out who and when that role is going to be filled.

The assumption has been that the Rangers would go after a No. 2 center with the contacts of both Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp expiring — someone to play behind Mika Zibanejad, or give Filip Chytil a chance to show if can grow into that role after having a nice performance during these playoffs. It is a sound theory, but what if I said that maybe the Rangers think they already have someone who they want to play the No. 2 center role for the foreseeable future, and instead are looking to add a No. 1 center, or someone who will grow into that role?

I am not saying this is the case, but I think there’s a good chance the Rangers could view Dubois’ situation similar to the one they took advantage of when Zibanejad was with the Ottawa Senators. Zibanejad was a talented player picked early on in the draft, and he joined the Rangers via trade at age 23 as Ottawa looked to get a little more experience as they tried to contend before trading away their cornerstone pieces.

Once in New York, Zibanejad replaced Derick Brassard, and over the last six years has grown into an important player for the Rangers who was rewarded for his efforts with a fat new contract.

This upcoming season is the first year of an eight-year extension, and the Rangers know that at some point they will need to move Zibanejad down in the lineup as regression and age impact him. History has shown that players that lose a step at 5v5 can still remain effective on the power play, and that’s something that I can see happening with Zibanejad.

That said, Zibanejad did just turn 29, so while there’s still a few years before anyone has to really worry even though age curves have shown that drop offs can be steep and sudden, there’s no harm in being prepared sooner rather than later. Center depth has been a weakness of the Rangers for quite some time, so it isn’t a shocker that they are usually linked to centers.

Dubois, selected No. 3 overall at the 2016 draft, turned 24 last week and already has five years of NHL experience under his belt. To date he’s skated in 361 NHL games and posted a line of 102-137-239 which equates to 0.66 points per game. This past year he scored a career high 28 goals and with 60 points he finished a point short of a career best established during the 2018-19 campaign.

If you take Zibanejad’s first five seasons (age 19 to 23) which doesn’t include the cup of coffee he had as an 18-year-old, he skated in 328 games and posted a line of 78-109-187 which equates to 0.57 points per game. During that span his best season was a 51-point campaign as a 22-year-old, and it didn’t take him long to set new career highs once he came into his own with the Rangers.

Raw points aren’t always the best way of evaluating a player, so I decided to look at how each stacked up in Evolving-Hockey’s goals above replacement metric.

Dubois has played just over 6,296 minutes and has been worth 47.9 GAR, and 8.8 WAR, with the bulk of his worth (31.5) being even strength offense. That’s a category in which the Rangers have struggled, and are looking to beef up in.

Evolving-Hockey

Using the same age range, Zibanjead played 5,226 minutes and was worth 36.7 GAR, 6.9 WAR, and the bulk of his worth (24.6) was also even strength offense.

Evolving-Hockey

There is a bit of a disparity in terms of minutes played, so if you look at the numbers per 60, here’s how they stack up.

Dubois: 0.457 GAR/60 | 0.084 WAR/60

Zibanejad: 0.418 GAR/60 | 0.079 WAR/60

So the TL/DR is that Dubois has had a better start to his career than Zibanejad did over the same time period. He’s automatically going to get more money because his qualifying offer is $6 million, and it goes without saying that any long-term deal will surpass the $5.35 million Zibanejad earned when he signed his first deal with the Rangers.

Given this information, the situation Dubois is in when it comes to his status as an RFA and proximity to UFA status, if the Rangers do ultimately deal for him it is because they see him being the eventual successor of Zibanejad, and someone who will be part of a great 1-2 punch for the next couple of seasons as the team looks to win a Stanley Cup.

The tricky part of this thought process would be timing when to make the switch, because there’s a chance by the time that happens Dubois is 28, and what impact that will have on the rest of the roster in terms of their aspirations of being a contender?

That said, here’s a quick look at how each has performed recently, and how they’d stack up as a duo.

Evolving-Hockey
Micah Blake McCurdy, @IneffectiveMath

If Dubois makes it to unrestricted free agency in 2024 he will no doubt have his pick of teams, and will be in a position to sign a very lucrative contract at a time in which the league will be close to operating in a salary cap environment in which growth is consistent.

So if the Rangers do trade for him, I’d expect them to try and do it sooner rather than later so they can iron out a contract similar to how the Los Angeles Kings extended Kevin Fiala after acquiring him from Minnesota.

The fact that the Rangers were specifically named by Francois Gagnon feels like it is information being floated by Dubois’ agent. Nothing official, nor am I insinuating that’s the case, but it is just a feeling I have. If the Jets feel they could eventually lose him for nothing, and see him end up in New York, who is to say they don’t try and make a trade now?

The Rangers are a franchise that likes these leverage plays, and they try to add young talent with upside who either aren’t valued by their franchise or simply want out.

Tim Erixon was once a prized defense prospect that wasn’t going to sign with the Calgary Flames, and he ended up joining the Rangers via trade. Funny enough he became a piece in the Rick Nash trade, a leverage situation the Rangers took advantage of when Scott Howson backed himself into a corner and had to finally make a trade.

Derick Brassard ran his course with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and was identified by the Rangers as a former top pick who had potential to help the team and one of the main pieces in the Marian Gaborik trade. He then was traded for Zibanejad, and we know how that’s worked out.

The Rangers saw opportunity with Ryan Strome, and nabbed him from the Edmonton Oilers by sending Ryan Spooner, a player acquired in the Nash trade to Boston once his time in New York ran its course.

Jacob Trouba wanted out of Winnipeg, and the Rangers pounced by sending an undrafted college free agent that showed promise in Neal Pionk and a draft pick originally acquired when Kevin Hayes was shipped to Winnipeg at the deadline.

And then there’s Adam Fox, a situation that really doesn’t need an explanation.

This situation isn’t an exact match to any of the situations I outlined, but certainly feels like business the Rangers have conducted in the past. As always there will be a balance of the cost to acquire him, and what his cap number will be.

But I feel the Rangers will only walk down this road if they have their immediate salary structure mapped out, think this is the best player they can add while causing the least disruptions to the current makeup of the roster, and won’t have to let go of too many trade assets. They’d be making the move for a reason, and comfortable with the price.

Time will ultimately tell, but Dubois makes a lot of sense for the Rangers, their timeline, and what they are looking to accomplish.

Stats via Evolving-Hockey and Hockey-Reference unless otherwise noted.